Soft Soap

“Milkmaids have it all their own way,” thought Marigold, plunging her sore, reddened hands back into the lye and pummelling the filth from the clothes. Her eyes filled but she shook her head in irritation at her own weakness. Tendrils of damp, bedraggled hair fell over her shiny pasty pock-marked face as she leant over the steam. “Who’d look at the village laundress?” she asked herself pointlessly. The answer was obvious: no-one. Except Giles once, when it was dark and he was drunk and there was nobody to help.

Marigold heaved the clean washing into a basket so that she could put it through the mangle outside. She visualised herself winding the handle, the muscles on her blotchy arms bulging through her damp sleeves, the messy hair, the indoors face, the slimy soap and splashed dirt on her skirts. Meanwhile, over yonder, Tansy was simpering over a fence, swinging her empty buckets as she talked to Giles. Not talking; whispering. He was having to get closer and closer to listen. Tansy was giggling and casting her eyes down. Everyone knows that milkmaids never get smallpox and her perfect skin was gently flushed with maidenly blushes. Her lovely hair was neat under her bonnet, which Giles was just now pushing back so that he could put a rose bud over her ear.

Pausing to stretch and nurse her sore back, Marigold felt a brief tinge of guilt. Perhaps she shouldn’t have gone to Granny Wormwood for that potion. Looking into the basket, she felt certain that a slight glow was coming from the laundry she’d washed.

Tansy wandered over, swaying her hips. “Hope you’ve washed my best petticoats properly Mangold?” she said sharply, no longer whispering but using her normal voice and the childhood nickname.

“Oh yes,” said Marigold calmly. “I did a special whites load just for your petticoats and stockings and oh, look, also Giles’s undershirt and stockings. It seems like they’re in a right pickle.”

Tansy sniggered, “Oh fancy! My petticoats and his undershirt all tangled up together! Could be an omen! If I play my cards right, we’ll be tied together pretty soon.”

“Reckon you’re right,” said Marigold. “And you’ll be tied together just like these garments are. Only you won’t be able to separate like these will and the stains will grow and nothing will take them out.”

“Oh Mangold, you do go on,” snapped Tansy, “You always were a dilly daydream and no-one ever knew what you were talking about. Just hurry up and get those things dry. I want to be ready this evening to meet Giles in the lane where it’s all dark. I just know it won’t take much to get him to make love to me and then…”

“And a month or so later, when he raises that veil, you’ll see each other exactly as you are. Exactly as you are. Dirt and all.” whispered Marigold.

But Tansy walked off without listening.

In the sun, the washing shimmered.

water star

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

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